'Chinese wall'? Who uses 'Chinese wall'? Well, IBM did, and it actually means 'firewall'

Big Blue revamps terminology, keeps 'black box' because it's not pejorative


The results are in for an IBM initiative launched last June to find and replace internal outdated and biased IT terminology.

A GitHub post from Dale Davis Jones, vice president and Distinguished Engineer at IBM Global Technical Services, reveals which terms will be switched out.

The changed terms include:

old term new term
Chinese wall firewall or ethical wall
man hour / man day person hour / person day
segregation separation or segmentation
white hat hacker offensive security researcher
black hat hacker attacker
master (when paired with slave) controller, leader, manager, main, coordinator, parent or primary
slave worker, child, helper, replica, follower or secondary
blacklist blocklist
whitelist allowlist

Essentially terms where "white" or "black" were used to convey good or bad were deemed to reinforce racial bias. The use of "master" when paired with "slave" will also be discontinued as they diminish the dehumanising practice of slavery. Other colour names will remain as long as they don't reinforce negative stereotypes. For example, mastermind, grandfather, parent/child, red team, white paper, and white space all passed the test and can remain.

So did "black box" because IBM believes it "refers to opacity, such as details that aren't visible or are not the focus."

"This term is not based on a good/bad binary and so does not fall under our guiding principle for black and white terms," the post says.

New inclusive terminology is being encouraged where possible, said IBM, although it recognised that source code or names of product components might be difficult to immediately change as systems would go haywire if terminology was out of sync.

Words that are outside of IBM's direct influence but required to maintain user understanding also got a pass.

"As other industry leaders join IBM in embracing the use of inclusive language, IBM will continue to update the documentation to reflect those changes," said the post.

IBM is far from the only company issuing terminology changes. Analytics vendor Splunk recently retired words like master, slave, and blacklist. Unlike IBM, it decided "grandfathered" also had to go as they considered it gendered and racist.

Apple, GitHub, and OpenZFS have also tweaked their internal language policies following 2020's Black Lives Matter protests. ®

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